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Orco International Trad Climbing Meet 2012 Report

Posted on: December 11th, 2012 by The AAC

By Nathan Brown

This past September, I was honored to represent the American Alpine Club at the 2012 Valley Orco International Climbing Meet hosted by the Club Alpino Accademico of Italy. Traditional crack and slab climbing were the focus of the meeting and the Valley Orco crags, 50 kilometers North-East of Torino, were the perfect venue. For American perspective, if you could put Veadawoo, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Yosemite’s Cathedral Spires, and the movie Heidi in a blender, out would come a smoothie that tastes like Valley Orco.

My first introduction to technical climbing came in the form of a book at the age of 12. I was given a copy of Heinrich Harrer’s classic book, The White Spider.  Since then, I have had a deep yearning to climb in the Alps. I believed with all my heart that the climbing there must be better than what we had in Salt Lake City, Southern Utah, Yosemite, and the rest of North America. Twenty-five years later, during this climbing meeting, Mauro and several others of my new European friends really changed my paradigm on this subject. Their enthusiastic questioning about Yosemite and Indian Creek showed me a similar yearning for knowing what it’s like across the pond.

Valley Orco, in the Grand Paradiso, is the Little Yosemite of Italy. Back in the seventies, these guys were enamored of all things Yosemite and even jokingly named their larger formations Sergeant and Caporal. Mauro told me on day one, ”You have ‘The Captain’ and we have Sergeant. You see it is not as big as the Captain.” with his big fatherly Italian smile. The routes I climbed there were very similar to many classic Yosemite and Little Cottonwood routes; Orrechio del Pachiaderm was reminiscent of the bottom of the Stovelegs, Rattlesnake was like stacking twilight zone on top of the hard slabs on the Freeblast. Cragging at the Sergeant smacked of the Gate Buttress in LCC. The vertical nature of the rock and the parallel structure of the fractures made for some very interesting and, in my case, familiar climbing.

I can’t say enough about the effort, generosity, kindness and enthusiasm with which the Italian Club hosts carried out the 2012 Orco Trad Meeting. The accommodations, food, personal airport pick-ups, personal sacrifice of time and organization of the climbing schedules of nearly 50 people will never be forgotten by this American climber. Mauro and Claudio have inspired me to start taking steps toward organizing a meeting here in the States. City of Rocks? Zion? Anyone want to join in the fun?

I could go on and on with blow-by-blow accounts of the burly off-widths that bloodied my ankles and triceps but I won’t. The meeting for me was really about the people, the laughs, shared two-liter Czech beers, relating to others about family situations, and making friends from around the world. When I arrived I was a little worried about being the typical American idiot who can only speak English. As it turned out, it was the hilarious vernacular from the UK that I understood the very least. Andy Turner, schoolteacher, father, husband, and all around ace, told me that he needed to “Find a dog and bone so that he could have a chat with his trouble and strife.” Dave Rudkin, mountain guide, hard man, and motorcycle race fan then told me he was “Headed for the apples for a butcher about a place for a tommy tit.” When I teased Pete Whittaker, trad-phenom, “Wide-Boyz” badass, and man-handler of the route Greenspit, about joining me for a run, he looked at me like I was speaking Navajo.

The Scandinavian climbers were a real joy to hang with. Northwest Wyoming and western Norway seem to have several similarities. Long cold winters, excellent skiing, people who eat bear meat, energy export economies, and proud drinking skills. Lars Mjaavatn, Eivind Nordeide, and I were assigned to the Rattlesnake route with Italian Host Raphaele Pagliano on Day 1. The route was hard: in-your-face 5.10+ cracks to start, then a 5.11 slab, followed by two pitches of body squeeze and overhanging #5-6 Camalot gut-bust. Lars and I sat atop Rattlesnake bloodied and satisfied with a hard effort. Lars is very strong, confidence inspiring partner with whom I hope to climb again. Eivind is a full scale joker who was unfazed by my sheep jokes. A 6’3” red-bearded Viking with whom I had several conversations about socialized medicine, children, and wives, hard bargaining at work and life in general. I truly hope to share a rope with Eivind again, perhaps on some fjord-ice.

Since about the ninth grade, I’ve been reading about hardened eastern European alpinists who climb overhanging choss, dry-tool grass cliffs, and get it done with scary aluminum and titanium pins. Kris Banasik of Poland was quick to regale me with tales of pounding warthogs in to the over-hanging turf of the Tatras. I have to admit that I am more than a little interested in checking this stuff out. We spent one day in the alpine and I was lucky to snare Anasasjia Davidova as a partner for the run-out 5.11 cracks and faces. This small-in-size, yet large-in-presence, Slovenian woman was laughing her way up what I thought was just a little concerning, handling the climbing as well as anyone I’ve ever tied in with. Sadly, I never got to climb with the Czech contingent, Jakub, Martin, Jiri, and Eva. I did however manage to get in a good night of drinking with these guys. Martin had two-liter bottles of Czech beer called Branik and he kept pouring glasses until after midnight. We had a great time telling each other about our homelands and talking about skiing.

The Belgians—Stephane, Olivier, Erik, Pieterjan and Time—seemed to be all very strong rock climbers. I was not able to climb with these guys but I saw from the crags, these guys hiking the harder 5.11 and 5.12 routes. Erik and I shared slideshows on our laptops and Erik singlehandedly convinced me to visit the limestone walls of the Dolomites and Morocco. These guys are planning to visit the U.S. in the next year and I hope to share ropes with them when they arrive.

I had a really great time climbing one day with Tasos of Athens and Angelo Crippa of Italy. Tasos was on the national team for full-contact Kung Fu and he looked the part. Not to be messed with if you catch my drift. We climbed several not so difficult pitches and finished the day off with a bouldering session at the “Kosterlitz” boulder. If I could have a boulder in my yard, I might choose this one. Tasos was an awesome guy and I loved hearing him relate his realization of his alpine dream of climbing the Eiger. I really hope to one day visit Tasos in Greece for some limestone bliss.

I had several conversations with the Israeli climbers and I am most curious about the perspective of living in that part of the world. Especially strange and interesting to me is the experience born of military service requirement. I am grateful to these guys for showing me a little window in to their world. I’ve never thought about what it must be like to not have the freedom to get in a car, drive in any direction for ten hours, get out of the car without a worry in the world and climb whatever I like; North American climbers really have it good.

I studied German for two years in high school and two years in college so I was excited to try my German skills with the Germans and Swiss. As has always been my experience trying to speak German, my efforts quickly end in speaking English. I am constantly impressed by German speaker’s general ability to express themselves with English better than most Americans I know. Mirko, Manu, Caroline, and Kirsten were great. I only had the chance to climb with Manu at the Sitting Bull. After a few whippers, Manu managed to send the sandbagged finger-crack roof followed by a leaning foot-less fist crack. Kirsten was badass and I learned that she lead every pitch of the route Rattlesnake.

Last but not least I really enjoyed visiting with the Portugese guys. Carlos showed up with his wife and dog in a VW motorhome with a rainbow-shelled snail painted on the side. Luis hiked everything he tried and told me at one point that one can never have too much red wine. And Hadi, an Iranian PHD student studying in Portugal was most interesting. On the final night of the meeting, Hadi joined us for scotch at the bar. After the party, we walked back to the hotel and had a hilarious and enlightening discussion about our similarities of growing up within culture of heavy handed religion, his Islamic in nature, mine Mormon. 

I am most grateful to the American Alpine Club and the Club Alpino Accademico of Italia for selecting me to attend this fantastic meeting. The experience was beautiful, fantastic, rich and full of contrast and similarities. It was refreshing to be reminded once again that climbers, regardless of nationality, truly share a common culture of adventure, strength, integrity, purpose, and child-like-enthusiasm.


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